The Greek extreme-right Chryssi Avgi party has made unmasked threats against a leading journalist. Asked to comment, the European Commission yesterday (7 May) has reaffirmed its commitments to press freedom, but referred the issue to the country's authorities.
Chryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn), which won 6.97% of the votes and 21 seats in the Greek parliament in Sunday’s parliamentary elections (see background), has made intolerable death threats against Xenia Kounalaki, the editor of the foreign news desk of Kathimerini, Greece’s leading broadsheet, unleashing a wave of reactions on the resurgence of neo-Nazi extremism.
On 12 April, Kounalaki wrote an op-ed, arguing that the Greek media should ignore Chryssi Avgi, a party of what she called Nazi thugs, and which according to her should have been banned from running in the elections.
The response was almost immediate: a 2.500-word article, revealing many details of Kounalaki’s personal and professional life, and mentioning her daughter for no apparent reason, was published on Chryssi Avgi’s website.
'Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat, kommt Attentat!'" wrote the unknown author of the article. Anyone who speaks German, like Kounalaki (born in Hamburg), knows that this is a barely masked threat against her life.
"I don’t think they will actually exercise physical violence against me and I am not afraid of them. But the fact that many of my friends and colleagues and even the Greek police advised to stop writing against them for a while is a first victory for Chryssi Avgi. This is the target of their fear campaign. To make journalists say: Let’s leave them and write about something else," Kounalaki told EURACTIV.
EU reaction still pending
The issue was brought up during the daily briefing of the European Commission yesterday (7 May) by Kounalaki’s colleague at Kathimerini, Costas Karkagiannis, the newspaper’s Brussels correspondent. Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, the Commission’s spokeswoman, reaffirmed the EU commitment to press freedom, but refused to comment any further, referring the issue to the Greek authorities.
European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, responsible also for Information Society and Media, will surely address the issue in the European Parliament today (8 May) at a seminar on media freedom, organised by the Association of European Journalists AEJ.
Kounalaki has filed a complaint to the Greek police, but she was told that there is very little which could be done, since the threatening article was unsigned and the domain name provider was registered in the United States.
Kounalaki said her 13-year old daughter is having nightmares, since some of her schoolmates belong to the youth chapter of the Chrysi Avgi party. Numerous members of the fringe party have been arrested in the past for attacks against immigrants and leftist activists. At least one of them served time in prison for attempted homicide.
Chryssi Avgi started as a fringe organization of "Nationalist Socialist Studies" three decades ago. It published a little-known magazine, in which it praised Hitler’s "contribution to humanity". Its activists and leader casually exchange Nazi salutes among them.
Until 2010’s municipal elections, Chryssi Avgi drew very little support. Greece has suffered a brutal Nazi occupation during World War II and faced the bitter experience of a military dictatorship, between 1967 and 1974.
However, the financial implosion has shaken the foundations of Greece’s two-party system, and exposed the weaknesses of an unsustainable growth model, based on fiscal laxity, cronyism, nepotism, and corruption.
The influence of Chryssi Avgi's virulent anti-immigrant and anti-IMF rhetoric, often accompanied by the party's "militia patrols" in the most crime-stricken neighborhoods of Athens, grew faster than its most fanatic supporters had anticipated.
Analysts concur that Chryssi Avgi is a symptom of the crisis. The results of Sunday’s elections reflect a seismic shift in Greece’s political landscape, putting an end to the four-decade-domination of the center-right New Democracy and center-left PASOK parties.
Although both are to be blamed for the country’s bankruptcy, PASOK and New Democracy were the pillars of the most prolonged period of political stability in Greece’s history. Their downfall, during a time of severe economic recession, signals the start of a transitional period, bearing many similarities with the times of the Weimar Republic, Kounalaki said in an article she has written for the Spiegel.
Sunday’s poll shows that the nation is deeply divided. If these divisions are not healed sooner rather than later the country could face the spectre of more political instability.
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele expressed his concern on Monday (7 May) about any potential involvement of the far-right Chrysi Avgi in a new Greek government, as the neo-Nazi party triggered immediate controversy after making it into Parliament for the first time.
“Whatever government is formed it is important that it follows the best democratic traditions of Greece … within the spirit of the values the European Union is based on,” Fuele said during a visit to Skopje. “What is important … (is) that no party connected or related to xenophobia or nationalism is a part of the executive branch of government.”